Hamill’s Beat - Passing time instead of law in the nanny assembly

In the public sector, they say ‘work’ multiplies to fill the time available and the same rule applies in the assembly.

South Belfast MLA and SDLP leadership contender Conall McDevitt warned MLAs that they risked making “absolute eejits” of themselves over their failure to deliver legislation on the big issues. In the absence of moves on education and local government, MLAs have had to ride their own hobby horses to fill the time available.

We recently had a debate on weeds in footpaths and no doubt we’ll soon get the usual populist piffle about keeping oil prices down. Meanwhile, no man can fix a boundary to the march of a nanny state, as Charles Stewart Parnell almost said. Next year we’re to get 22 new tests for cars in the so-called “MOT test”. And, Ulster Unionist John McAllister wants to make it an offence for parents to smoke in cars carrying children.

A caller to Stephen Nolan’s radio show said it would be a hard law to enforce. But another contended it would be as easy to put into effect as the law on drivers using mobile phones. That’s all right then! Smokers have nothing to worry about so. Hardly a day passes that we don’t see motorists negotiating roundabouts and junctions with phones clamped to their ear. It’s one of our many existing laws honoured more in the breech than in the observance.

At last, six months after the election, a programme for government has finally made its first appearance. It may eventually lead to progress on the big ticket items.

Don’t hold your breath. It could take a while yet. We only do politics at a glacial pace. In the meantime 108 MLAs still have two days a week and all those Nolan shows to fill. Normally this column would be against making up unnecessary rules but in this case I’m willing to make an exception. Here are a couple of suggestions for the nanny state brigade.

Patients shouldn’t be allowed to congregate at the entrances to hospitals smoking fags whilst wearing only pyjamas and slippers. They could catch their death of cold. All patients should be issued with dressing gowns so that those who have to go out for a gasper will at least be a bit more comfortable. That should be a popular move.

Smoking is bad for people’s health but worrying about it is even worse. When you’re all worried about your health it’s very hard to stop smoking. In any case, it would be unpopular to ban it altogether. So, couldn’t we have public information ads suggesting a limit of say five fags a day like the ones we have about units of alcohol? And, maybe people could be fitted with smoke detection devices like the ones we have in our homes. You know the ones that we’re supposed to check every Monday.

Then there’s the problem that we don’t eat enough greens. (Many people don’t want a green about the place!) But fruit and veg are expensive.

Couldn’t some MLA or other, suggest that they be added to the list of things available on prescription? That would encourage people to eat them. There’d be a wonderful improvement in health and hospitals would save a fortune. The only problem then would be that people would live so long it would put added strain on the public purse to pay their pensions.

In case anyone hasn’t got the hang of this; namely the whole idea that MLAs’ hobby horses should to be popular, here’s another one. This is for those who are really committed to the nanny state. We eat far too much fried food, so why not ban the infamous Ulster Fry or “All Day Breakfast” as it’s often called nowadays. Even if we don’t succeed in making people live longer we could at least make it seem longer.

We could make all of the north of Ireland as miserable as Belfast on a wet Sunday afternoon in the 1950s, or America in the prohibition era. That would please those of us who are miserable at the thought that somebody somewhere may actually be having a good time.

That’s enough to be going on with in the meantime. Wouldn’t the world be a happier place if only we had more rules?

I think I missed my true vocation. I should have been an MLA. Or maybe I don’t really have the hang of it?

Some think it would be hard to enforce the law to stop drivers smoking.

Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal every Tuesday